TV? both real TV (SECN) and future TV
Terrible excuse for a stats tracker? Duh.
LSU's season has been ....well, let's go with uneven. They entered conference play at 6-6 (quality wins over ERROR DIVIDE BY ZERO, losses to Long Beach State and Arkansas Little-Rock among others), only to go 4-2 in-conference with pretty justifiable losses to South Carolina and Texas A&M, both on the road. They've also racked up two straight top-25 wins in Starkville and at home against Kentucky. Whether or not you think Kentucky is the next-best Georgia-that team you can score a top-25 win over to boost your resume-that's still a sign of a team that's figured something out. In the meantime, be glad this game is in real Knoxville and not fake Knoxville, because LSU still scares me.
We kind of know how Nikki Caldwell likes to coach a team, because we've seen Tennessee turn in a better version of this defense-and-kind-of-ability-to-shoot combination. LSU plays a bit faster (5 games at sub-70 possessions and one "excruciating" marks from WBBState compared to 8 games and three excruciating marks for Tennessee), meaning this is going to be the kind of weird season where a Nikki Caldwell team plays faster than Tennessee. I don't know how to deal with this new reality,
What causes the branch to break for the Lady Tigers?
- D-PPP greater than 0.83. They've racked up two wins playing like this-Florida and MSU-but those are the lone exceptions. There's a break with O-PPP less than 0.83 as well, but that should be pretty self-evident. Tennessee beats both marks comfortably on average and typically breaks 1 on the O-PPP scale; just because I hate the offensive pace doesn't mean it isn't successful.
- Turnover rate north of 20%. Tennessee approaches this number overall, but they've been barely breaking 13% in-conference. It's not impossible-basically forcing another 5 turnovers a game over the conference baseline does this, including charge/block calls-but the Lady Vols have backed off a bit from the ball-hawking chaos of earlier this year. Andraya Carter, of course, is the exception.
- Limit LSU assists. The Lady Tigers aren't heavy on assists in the first place, but if they end up at less than 10 assists on the night, they don't fare well. This looks like limiting the passing influence of Danielle Ballard and Raigyne Moncrief, and since neither of them shoot particularly well, forcing them to go isolation and beat you that way works. They're not perimeter shooters either-really, nobody on the Lady Tigers is, stop me if you've heard that before too-which means letting them try also isn't the worst idea.
- Keep Moncrief off the boards. Weird as that sounds, limiting her rebounding ability seems to matter for LSU. Less weirdly, keeping her off the offensive glass has more of an impact than keeping her off the defensive glass.
- People you want to let shoot: DaShawn Harden (207 points on 214 shots), Moncrief (198 on 202). I'd be careful with everyone else, but that's about 20 shots a game going to players with a PPWS below 1. The Lady Vols will have height advantages pretty much across the board, which means length advantages as well. Stick Carter on Ballard and let the guards and wings figure out the rest.
Meanwhile, for the Lady Vols the task is simple: rebound from the game at South Bend. Don't think that because they came out of the Notre Dame game with an 11-point loss was a sign they played badly; they had 38 good minutes playing evenly with a team that's a strong bet to make the Final Four. Will that be enough for the Lady Vols to make the Final Four? Well, no, pretty obviously no, but there's a path to success here.
Matter of fact, it's pretty easy to put that path in a single sentence: this team will go as far as Isabelle Harrison can take them. Of course, the actual doing that isn't quite as easy, since Isabelle Harrison is going as far as Isabelle Harrison's knee can go. She struggled in South Bend, but Bashaara Graves in particular did very strong work early. The rest of the Lady Vols can make up for a lot, but Harrison can't throw up the Meighan-Simmons-in-a-big-game 4/16 line and expect the rest of the squad to bail her out. Same story, different player.
Granted, South Bend was the exception for Harrison in big games, but it does highlight an ongoing concern for Tennessee: she can be taken out of games right now. Fix that, and Tennessee should be able to D up with the best of them. There's enough supporting offense to cover for a lot, but it can't cover everything.
PREDICTION: 76-61 Tennessee. LSU is not a good offensive team this year and I'm still stupidly optimistic offensively after the Notre Dame game. Hooper's a bit more staid and going with the regular ol' 70-58 win.
MORE TIME FOR MOORE: 6 minutes.